Japanese nuclear plant clears hurdle to restart

Japanese regulators have given preliminary approval for a nuclear power plant near the country’s southern tip to restart operations, the first plant cleared under new stringent rules.

The Sendai Nuclear Power Plant’s two reactors would become the first to restart after new rules were put in place following the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi disaster, the Associated Press reported. Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority approved the plant’s design upgrades and safety improvements Wednesday.

A 30-day public comment period will begin next month before the agency can give final approval, but the Wednesday decision is a major step.

“I take this as a step forward,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters, according to AP. “When there is a final decision that the plant is safe, we will proceed with a plan to restart the reactors, while trying to gain understanding from local communities and the residents.”

The new safety rules are meant to prevent disasters like the 2011 one, in which a catastrophic failure resulted in a meltdown of three reactors after a tsunami. Plants now must have multiple layers of protects against various disasters, such as tsunamis, typhoons, earthquakes and volcanos.

The disaster caused nuclear agencies around the world to reevaluate safety measures. Most people in Japan have opposed reopening nuclear plants after Fukushima.